So you have feral cats in your neighborhood? Not sure what you should do?
What is a feral cat?
A feral cat is a cat born and raised in the wild, or who has been abandoned or lost and reverted to wild ways, or any cat who lives on an Illinois farm is also considered feral according to Illinois Animal Protection law. While some feral cats tolerate a bit of human contact, some may be too fearful and wild to be handled. Ferals often live in groups, called colonies, and take refuge wherever they can find food—rodents and other small animals and garbage. They will also try to seek out abandoned buildings, barns, deserted cars.
Most true ferals are extremely difficult to rehabilitate and are unlikely to ever behave like “house cats.” Typically, the longer a cat lives outdoors, the more feral she becomes. By breeding with other stray or feral cats, she produces kittens who quickly learn feral traits. The most humane and effective solution for these cats is Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), as most street cats are feral, not stray.
Stray cats have been recently lost or abandoned. A stray cat, having had contact in the past with people, may meow at you, rub against your leg, and allow a bit of petting, while a feral cat will not. Usually strays can be successfully adopted back into a home, but even a stray cat is likely to need some degree of socialization. It is worth noting that feral cats, especially those who are neutered and have a caretaker, often look quite robust and healthy, while strays, not used to the street, may look more scraggly.
What should I do to help feral cats in my neighborhood?
The most important thing to remember is that feral cats should never be taken to animal control pounds or shelters. Because feral cats are not socialized, cannot be socialized, and are wild animals unsuitable for adoption, even no-kill shelters are not able to place feral cats in homes - they will almost certainly be killed immediately.
Feral kittens can often be adopted into homes, but they must be socialized at an early age. This is a critical window, and if they aren’t handled in time, they will remain feral and therefore unadoptable. If you have found baby kittens, please read our specific information on how to help baby kittens.
Ok, so I can’t take them to a shelter. What do I do for them, then?
Fortunately, there is a humane, effective solution to curb the community cat population, improve the cats’ health, and make them better neighbors to you. It’s called Trap Neuter Return, or TNR.
What is Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)?
TNR involves trapping all of the cats in a colony, having them neutered, vaccinated for rabies, eartipped, and then returned to their territory, where they are monitored by their caretaker and provided with food and shelter. Whenever possible, young kittens and any friendly cats are removed for vetting and socialization, and placed for adoption.
TNR immediately stabilizes the size of the colony and will result in a gradual decline of the population over time. In addition, the nuisance behavior often associated with feral cats is dramatically reduced. This includes the yowling and noise that comes with fighting and mating activity and the odor of un-neutered males spraying to mark their territory. The cats tend to roam less and so become less of a visible presence, yet continue to provide natural rodent control, a valuable benefit in rural areas. Because there are hundreds of thousands of free-roaming cats, and because the vast majority cannot be homed, TNR is the best solution.
Studies have proven that trap-neuter-return is the single most successful method of stabilizing and maintaining healthy feral cat colonies with the least possible cost to local governments and residents, while providing the best life for the animals themselves.
Why attempts to remove the cats will fail:
When cats are removed from an area, other outdoor or stray cats move in to take advantage of the food source, so removing outdoor cats only temporarily solves the problem. TNR is more effective and less costly than repeated attempts at extermination. Costs for repeatedly trapping and killing feral colonies are far higher than promoting stable, non-breeding colonies in the same location. If cats are simply removed, the vacated areas are soon filled by other cats who start the breeding process over again. If traditional trap/kill animal control methods worked, the feral cat overpopulation problem would be improving, instead the opposite is happening – in areas that have not adopted TNR, feral cat numbers are increasing year after year!
Aren’t they suffering out there?
Studies prove that feral cats lead long, happy, healthy lifespans, content in their outdoor home like other wild animals. You would not consider raccoons, squirrels, or rabbits to be suffering outside, nor consider removing them from their habitat, and feral cats should be given the same respect.
How do I go about Trapping, Neutering, and Returning the cats?
Make an appointment at one of the low-cost or free spay/neuter clinics we have listed here.
Once you have an appointment, set out to trap the community cats using live humane traps, often available to borrow or rent from your local humane society or hardware store. Here’s a helpful video on how to catch a cat for neutering.
After you have spayed or neutered your cat, follow the recovery instructions provided by the clinic, then release the cat back into the location where you trapped her. Never release a cat into a new area, she will make every attempt to get ‘home’ and may get killed in the process.
Continue to provide food , water, and shelter for your feline neighbors, knowing you have helped improve their health and happiness, made them better residents, and helped end the homeless cat population.
It’s just that simple! Community cats are a community issue and it is up to us all to manage their population humanely and to respect their right to life and habitat.